Inferno Justice Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
[Bertran de Born]: "Because I severed those so joined, I carry –
alas – my brain dissevered from its source,
which is within my trunk. And thus, in me
one sees the law of counter-penalty." (Inf. XXVIII, 139-142)
Dante’s only explicit mention of contrapasso, or "the law of counter-penalty," occurs late in the poem. Perhaps because this canto best illustrates the concept of contrapasso, Dante mentions it here. Indeed, Bertran de Born’s grotesque punishment – having his head separated from his body for pitting a king and his son, the prince, against each other – neatly depicts the way in which contrapasso functions.
I do not think that there was greater grief
in seeing all Aegina’s people sick
(then, when the air was so infected that
all animals, down to the little worm,
collapsed; and afterward, as poets hold
to be the certain truth, those ancient peoples
received their health again through seed of ants)
than I felt when I saw, in that dark valley,
the spirits languishing in scattered heaps.
Some lay upon their bellies, some upon
the shoulders of another spirit, some
crawled on all fours along that squalid road.
We journeyed step by step without a word,
watching the listening to those sick souls,
who had not strength enough to lift themselves. (Inf. XXIX, 58-72)
Since all the falsifiers suffer a number of diseases which distort their bodies, Dante implies that blatant lying is as serious a condition as an actual malady. If a healthy soul always speaks the truth, these sinners must indeed lie through their teeth since they are so sick they "[have] not the strength enough to lift themselves." Here more than anywhere else, Dante attacks the infectious, social aspect of fraud. Each of the different types of falsifiers corrupts a particular bond that unites individual human beings. Alchemists compromise the material stability of the world, falsifiers of persons degrade men’s relationships with each other, counterfeiters compromise the integrity of currency, and liars debase language. All these falsifiers corrupt the natural fabric of reality, and thus have their naturalness compromised by the scourge of disease.
And as the croaking frog sits with its muzzle
above the water, in the season when
the peasant woman often dreams of gleaning,
so, living in the ice, up to the place
where shame can show itself, were those sad shades,
whose teeth were chattering with notes like storks’.
Each kept his face bent downward steadily;
their mouths bore witness to the cold they felt,
just as their eyes proclaimed their sorry hearts. (Inf. XXXII, 31-39)
Immersion in ice is the perfect punishment for traitors for a number of reasons. The coldness of ice signals the lack of warmth and humanity present in the traitors’ hearts that has allowed them to betray their peers. Also, ice immobilizes the sinners so they cannot move to betray their fellows, as they did in life. The only part of them which can move is their mouths, which they use to bear "witness to the cold they [feel]."